This is the first version that I wrote in 1990

After reading 'Merc' by Jay Mallin and Robert K. Brown. American Soldiers of Fortune (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979)


Served in the US Army and spent four years 8 months and 13 days in Vietnam, where he obtained the rank of Captain, (US Army Special Forces). He was at the siege of the Lang Vei Special Forces camp, and afterwards he became a teaching assistant at the Southern Illinois University, (1975).

After six months he was recruited and told to fly to Kinshasa all expenses paid. However, he never made contact with anybody, and moved onto South Africa. From there he went to Rhodesia and joined the Rhodesian Air Force to help expand and modernise the Rhodesian Parachute School. Later he was made Chief Airborne Advisor to the Commander of Combined Operations Lieutenant General Peter Walls. Where he was made responsible for training a team of instructors to build a Halo Committee (High Altitude Low Opening).

He wrote a book on the rules and regulations to be used by Halo users. When he arrived at the parachute school they were turning out twenty-four personnel a month, when he left a year later they were graduating one hundred and fifty man classes in the same facilities, using three other additional instructors.

Lieutenant Colonel Ron Ried-Daley soon grabbed John and made him Commander for planning and executing all Airborne Operations. The unit comprised of both white and black ranks. Training consisted of parachute drops as low as five hundred and sometimes four hundred feet and at night with planes being talked in. The talker having a QFE Altimeter would tell the pilot so the pilot knew his exact height. His ideas were very revolutionary and soon had good results.

John led the raid into Mozambique to Pungwe in Manika Province killing 1,184 terrorists and only suffered 4 friendly casualties.  He led 65 disguised Sellous Scouts in eighty two and half-ton trucks with 50 Calibre Machine Guns mounted on them. They did there home work and knew that the camp at Pungwe was a training area and at 6am all the personnel would be on the parade ground for roll call and exercise, with all their weapons locked in the Armory. Being so deep in Mozambique they thought they were safe. John drove his convoy right into the camp at 6.30am, his men were dressed in terrorist uniforms and waving Frelimo Flags. His men dismounted from their trucks and fell in a single line. The Guerrillas all three thousand of them were on the parade ground and thinking the convoy were there own troops they started clapping and giving the black power salute. John gave the command to fire. The initial fire fight if you could call it that lasted about thirty minutes. By 8.30am the machine guns on the trucks had run out of ammo, leaving 1,184 dead they just turned round and drove home. General Walls claimed that the Sellous Scouts alone had killed or captured more enemy than the entire army since the war started around 1969-70 and the Scouts had only been in existence since 1973 and hadn’t even done anything really punitive until John joined them.

It was rumoured that Nkomo Mugabe both wanted all the Sellous Scout leaders put on trial when they took over Rhodesia.

Later in 1983 he went on to fight in El Salvador.

Terry Aspinall 1990


'Merc' by Jay Mallin and Robert K. Brown. American Soldiers of Fortune (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979)


John Early

The second version 2010

A first hand account of John Early during his military career with the Rhodesian  Selous Scouts. By John Cronin PhD 

E-mail from John Cronin. Early and I were in the Rhodesian Security Forces together, though not in the same units at the same time.  He was at New Sarum and in the Selous Scouts while I was in the RLI, and then by the time I joined the Scouts in November of 1978, he had gone AWOL.  My sources on this clown were a verbal description in 1977 by John Murphy, his OC in Assault Group, and Colonel Ron Reid-Daly, whose letter to me several years ago served as the basis for the comments I wrote about Early's shooting incident, arrest, subsequent impending court martial and desertion.  I still have the letter.  Of course, you can use any or all of my comments if you wish and please let me know if I can help in any other way.  Incidentally, as journalism goes, Merc was one very large compendium of shit.

John had earlier given his version of events while serving in the Selous Scouts during the 1970’s and exposes John Earlys Hollywood version published in the Book ‘Merc’. This account from John was originally posted on the Military Photos Forum. I now believe this to be a more accurate account of what happened.

I will leave my version of John Earlys claims posted on this page (bottom) so you can compare versions. My information was taken from Merc’ a book (Published in 1979) I read and wrote about during 1990. Since then, and with the help of the internet other more accurate evidence and information has come to light placing grave doubt on some of the information and accuracy of my version. Terry Aspinall

Last October (2009), I commented about a posting made by ‘rhodtpr’ concerning John Early, a disgraced Seclous Scout officer that was cashiered out of the Rhodesian Army in 1978, and said that I would have one further comment about this clown. Well, this is my comment:
There had been a total of five Americans who wore Scouts’ colors during the war, but a couple of them had been horrible mistakes. We had one sergeant in Training Group who was satisfactory, though he was non-operational because he had not been through selection, and one very junior enlisted with Assault Group who had been canned for falling asleep on a water detail, but three of us had been officers.

One was John Murphy, who I had come across from the SAS, and after leaving the Rhodesian Army in 1977 for the South African Pathfinders, was killed in a freefall accident while on training down there, and the other was the biggest wastrel I ever met anywhere in the form of one John Early.

Early was the reason the Selous Scouts had a selection test and why everyone was supposed to pass it before being allowed in. I spoke with Colonel Reid-Daly the day I joined the Regiment in November of 1978 and he told me that Early was the worst personnel mistake he had ever made in his entire career. At the time he was brought in, the unit needed people who were HALO (high altitude, low opening) qualified free-fallers and Early, who was then an instructor at New Sarum, was the only individual available to train Scouts, so Reid-Daly made it possible for him to be commissioned a captain without going through selection. However, according to what Major John Murphy of the Selous Scouts once told a tent full of us in 1977 while my Commando was on Fire Force in Buffalo Range, it wasn’t any time before Early was screwing up operations so badly on externals in Mozambique that he could not be counted on to be where he was supposed to be and Murphy no longer trusted the man. Not long after that, Early got so drunk one night that he shot up the walls of a pub full of civilians, forcing the Regiment to issue an apology to the owner and pay for damages.

The author was told by a Selous Scouts officer that this took place up at Wankie, but Reid-Daly recalls the incident occurring outside a Salisbury night club. The fact is, the location is immaterial because it took place in a pub somewhere, but what is well documented is that the police were persuaded to allow the Army to handle the case and Reid-Daly immediately put Early up for a court-martial. The Army adjutant general subsequently called Reid-Daly and told him to tell Early to resign his commission and return to the States, but Early, who was in close arrest in his quarters at the time, refused, only to change his mind as the proceedings went forward.

A few days before they were to begin, he approached Reid-Daly and said that his former wife had been injured in a car accident and he had to return to the US to give permission for her to undergo an operation. Reid-Daly gladly sent him on his way, and although Early promised to return, of course he did not and was classified a deserter until the end of the war.

Reid-Daly said that some time later he read where Early had allowed that he was General Walls’s personal advisor on the tactical use of paratroopers in counterinsurgency operations, a claim Reid-Daly said he found ludicrous. As Reid-Daly said, ‘[Early] was definitely not one of America’s best.’ Letter from Reid-Daly to the author, November 2005.
An illustration of just how deluded poor little John Early was concerns the Selous Scouts strike on Pungwe, which, up to that point in the war (August of 1976), was the largest external raid ever conducted on a ZANLA camp. Eighty-four Selous Scouts (16 European and 68 African) drove across the border with Mozambique in 10 Unimogs, hit the camp killing nearly 1200 guerrillas and returned virtually unscathed.

One reason Combined Operations Headquarters released the information was to raise civilian morale and it did exactly that throughout the country, confirming for the first time what General Walls had been alluding to all along: that there wasn’t one day that went by that the Security Forces weren’t operating outside the borders of Rhodesia. And without naming them, it also brought the Selous Scouts into the public eye for the first time and gave a face to the unit that nearly everyone had heard about, but only in whispered conversations up to then.

In a book about Americans serving the Security Forces*, Early commented on this episode in breath taking detail, and the reader might take notice of the liberal use of the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our:’

‘A major cross-border operation took place in early August 1976 when our sixty-five man disguised Selous Scouts team attacked a terr camp called Pungwe in the Manika Province of Mozambique. We killed 1,184 terrorists and suffered only four friendly causalities.’

‘Our operational planning was assisted by information from a terrorist who defected. He told us the camp served as a brigade headquarters . . .'

'When planning the raid, we thought . . .'

'We figured that surprise would be in our favor . . . ’

*Jay Mallin and Robert K. Brown, Merc: American Soldiers of Fortune (New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1979), chapter 11, esp. pp. 179- 80.

One would gather from these excerpts that Early was a factor in the operation, but aside from not getting the number of participants correct, at the time of Pungwe, he was at New Sarum serving as a jump instructor and didn’t even leave that facility until May of 1977, a full nine months after the attack, so the closest he had gotten to combat up to that point was in his dreams. Reid-Daly lists all the European personnel in the order of column in his book (Top Secret War, pp. 351-52), and Early isn’t mentioned. Imagine that. I describe all of this in some detail because, in more than one publication, Early has consistently lied about most of the time he spent with the Selous Scouts, as is demonstrated by one closing comment he made in the interview with Merc: ‘When [John] Murphy and I returned to Salisbury, General Walls took us in and started talking about the settlement they were going to make, to a majority-rule government . . . . Walls said, “We’d like you to stay on, if you would like to . . . . ” I think it was a mark of the regard General Walls had for us that he brought the two of us in and told us personally what he thought was going to happen.’ Merc, pages. 186-87.

Right. Because commanding generals always bring a couple of captains in off the street and confide in them some of their country’s most classified strategic plans just after they’ve decided to court-martial one of them. But that was John Early all the way: confidant, merc, heavy duty operator, professional bad-ass, monumental fraud, unreconstructed gasbag and tithead extraordinaire.

John R Cronin PhD 2010
Strayer University Online


Question to John. I'm wondering what else I can trust in the 'Merc' Book?

Johns response Quote "I wouldn't trust a word in that book.  If they can write that Early was on the Pungwe raid when he wasn't even in the Selous Scouts at the time it went off in August of 1976, then they can write anything Unquote".

The book has been mention and pushed in a couple of different places on this website, please read the above comments from John before you take it seriously.